Holy Sons play tunes for misfits

Frontman, Emil Amos, sang tunes suited to Bar le Ritz’ finest whiskey

You’re cruising down a deserted desert highway with the top down, harvest moon hanging low against the mountains on the horizon. You’re catching your warped reflection in the bottom of a whiskey glass as you reflect on past mistakes and shortcomings. You’re standing mere steps away from a pair of swinging saloon doors, hand quivering next to the pistol on your hip, caught in the middle of a veritable wild-west standoff. If it’s happening all at once, or at least it feels like it, you’re listening to Holy Sons.
On a damp and chilly Sunday night, Bar Le Ritz PDB, formerly known as Il Motore, hosted the Portland-grown project. Visible onstage through an assortment of jean jackets, autumn beards, leather bombers, and cotton beanies was Emil Amos – of OM, Grails, and Lilacs & Champagne fame – crooning with conviction to the intimate crowd. Equal parts introspective and diabolical, it is abundantly clear that both the lyrics and the music are Amos’ brainchild as they pour from his instruments. Delivered with passion and intensity, the artist’s music is a vehicle for relaying tales of both life experience and the analysis that follows, stripped bare to reveal harsh truths with every spirited howl and pluck of guitar strings.
Mixing psychedelica with a progressive attitude, between intricate rock riffs Holy Sons can conjure the image of a spice market in India or a curtained opium den without warning. Versatility and fluidity are strong points for Amos – while the overarching theme of self-examination lingers, it takes on many different forms and personalities. Regardless of the flavour of the minute, the crowd bobbed its collective head responsively to Holy Sons’ brand of ear candy, relishing its charming unpredictability and dark, devilish charm.


Sampling the psychedelic 70s

Don’t let the charming decadence of the name Lilacs & Champagne seduce you into thinking that tuning in will be an easy listening experience – on the contrary, indulging in the sample-heavy duo’s product provides the listener with some of the dankest, impurest stuff on the market today.

Lilacs & Champagne play Il Motore on Sept. 17. Photo by Eliza Sohn.

“The friendliness of the name helped sell us on it, because that’s kind of what its not,” said Emil Amos, partner in crime of Alex Hall, who comprise the duo. “It’s trying to slip a pill into your drink – you’re drinking this saccharine thing, but there’s an insidious drug waiting behind it.”

Sure as shooting, Lilacs & Champagne tries – and succeeds – to crawl under your skin and stay there. Both their self-titled debut album as well as Danish & Blue, which dropped this past April, serve up the unlikely atmospheric mix of the sinister and the playful, which manage to coexist perfectly under the umbrella of influence that is ‘70s rock and psychedelica.

Harking back to the past and paying homage to its vibe, whether it be via their samples dating back decades or the availability of their albums as LP’s, is the group’s joie de vivre.

“You could say it’s almost a device,” said Amos. “Unfortunately, in the end of the ‘70s, when analog equipment was at its very height and records had never sounded as beautiful as they did, digital technology came in and destroyed this incredible language – this totally amazing, intricate, mysterious language that human beings had written and sculpted.”

In order to artfully resurrect what Lilacs & Champagne regard as a period of auditory mastery, Amos and Hall regularly make a sport of digging through record shop stock, looking for “the most embarrassing pieces of music that people have made in the last century, where they accidentally show a piece of their soul that they didn’t even understand they were revealing.”

These hand-picked samples then become both the sculptor and the sculpture itself as they are delicately worked into each and every track. Much like the limitations imposed by preconceived notions of what sounds good on piano, guitar, and drums in a regular recording environment, sample-based records dictate an entirely new cocktail of limitations that an artist must accommodate.

 “A lot of people assume it’s easier working with samples, but it’s that much harder to defy the initial purpose of what the sample was trying to do,” said Amos. “Trying to build smaller clips into a new tapestry and iron them out into a cohesive composition could very well take you more time than writing something on guitar and bashing it out.”

The resulting content is as impure as it is soothing, and as eerie as it is rewarding to figure out for yourself. From the unfamiliar sounds of obscure Scandinavian pornography, underground films from their preferred era, and the twangy, seductive remains of what may have once been a Bollywood track, samples make up the skeletal structure of Lilacs & Champagne.

 “It’s an attempt to recapture the spookiness that music can convey, the particular kinds of experiences that you’ve had in the past,” said Amos. “That music that you heard wafting out of your uncle’s porn den when you were a kid that was so soft and so cheesy, or the music that your neighbour was ODing to next door. We’re trying to reclaim these things you thought were scarring, strange, and slightly insidious. You have to go to the ‘70s for that feeling.”

 Revisiting fuzzy, dreamy memories of yore and throwing them back in everyone’s face decades later is Lilacs & Champagne’s way of gently nudging the modern music world towards a curiously surreal, oddly dreamlike time – and jogging willing listeners’ minds while they’re at it.

“We’re trying to create a discomfort in that little area where darkness and sense of humour meet in the middle,” said Amos, “and make it weirdly fun to listen to so that you want to hear it again and again.”

Lilacs & Champagne play Il Motore on Sept. 17.



A bloody good time

Photo Matteo Montanari

There are two types of Bloody Beetroots concertgoers in this world: those who flock to a local venue to bump to their DJ set, and those who are able to witness the magnitude of a raw, thrashing, deafening, honest-to-God instrumental live show – an experience denoted by the addition of the phrase “Death Crew 77” to the trademark Beetroots name.

On Thursday night, the Telus Theatre was fortunate enough to be hosting the latter type of performance. Even before the Italian electronica superpower took the stage, the air was thick with the crowd’s contagious enthusiasm, as well as enough body heat to power a small village. Stepping onto the dance floor just shy of 11:30 p.m., I caught the last hour of Los Angeles-based Valentino Khan’s set, who proved within a matter of moments to be a prolific table-turner and hypeman. After generating a reasonable amount of perspiration, the curtains closed on Khan and feverish anticipation started to build.

Seemingly out of nowhere, the stage revealed itself once again, the headliners storming the scene with a shred of the electric guitar and a blinding flash of pure white light radiating from the Bloody Beetroots logo covering the back wall, signature jagged font and all. As if a switch had gone off in every attendee’s brain, the crowd went from zero to 60 in no time. With every seismic release of high-powered bass and screeching instrumentals, the concertgoers responded by going positively ballistic, creating a mosh pit that would make any punk show tuck its tail between its legs and saunter away defeated. Attendees were knocking each other around like ragdolls and limbs flew every which way, with so much sweat being exchanged that it could have been used as currency. Next time I see these guys, I’ll be donning a football helmet and steel-toed boots.

A horizon of bobbing heads and migrating crowd surfers split the scene between the DJ’s and their worshippers below, as the Beetroots bounded across the stage slamming keyboards, commanding guitars and dominating the mic. The show was one long raunchy ribbon of seamless, endless, sublime noise, punctuated by crowd-pleasers like “Warp 1.9” (Steve Aoki was there in spirit), “Cornelius,” and “Dimmakmmunication,” the namesake of which gives a nod to their record label Dim Mak.

An hour and a half and a suburban above-ground pool’s worth of perspiration later, the curtains fell once again and the mob made its exasperated exodus to coat check.


Joshua Van Tassel turns to chaos for inspiration

When Joshua Van Tassel steps into the studio  (which, he can now proudly say, is no longer based within his home) for a day’s work, he checks all connection to the outside world at the door.

“I don’t have any internet in the studio and I turn my phone off the second I walk in,” said the Canadian multi-instrumentalist.

Joshua Van Tassel plays Casa del Popolo on Wednesday, Apr. 3 at 8:30 p.m. Photo by Valerie Gore

Following suit, anyone else in attendance leaves their cell phone in a neat pile on a shelf near the door so that nobody is tempted to break the golden rule.

“I want to be there, I don’t want to be connected at all,” said Van Tassel. “I want to be present and give 100 per cent of my attention, and I want that from everybody else — if you’re here and you want to do this, let’s do it for real.”

Much like his organic, bare-bones approach to creating art, the content of Van Tassel’s product is heavily influenced by Maritime sonic tradition. Born and raised in rural Nova Scotia, the inclusion of predominantly acoustic instrumentation has always been the law of the land.

“The maritimes have a really strong songwriter tradition and a really strong folk tradition in general, and a lot of really good acoustic guitar players,” he said.

In a triumphant effort to create a marriage between old-world and new-world vibes, Van Tassel takes care to nurture and perfect that balance. “I’m interested in bridging the gap between really pretty, traditional-sounding, earthy folk songs and a more modern recording technique.”

Armed with the acoustic guitar as his auditory weapon and “portable writing tool,” Van Tassel not only composes each of his albums, but produces, engineers and mixes them to boot. Being at the helm of his own projects has allowed the musician to develop and acquaint himself with his medium.

“It’s a way to try out lots of things in a no-pressure situation,” he said. “If I make mistakes, it only affects me.”

True to its name, the content of his latest album, Dream Date, is heavily based in the disjointed nature of dreams. “When I set out to make this album, I tried to picture a really specific scene in my mind, like I’m scoring a movie,” he said. “Let’s say you’re dreaming. Sometimes, it’s almost like there’s no connectivity — you’re in one scene, then you’re in another, and your brain doesn’t really notice. It doesn’t make you go, ‘Okay, why am I now in this spaceship? I was just in a desert.’”

Following this blueprint, Van Tassel constructed the record as if each scene in the album was part of a string of organized chaos, “[blending] it in a way sonically that has that effect — now, [you’re] somewhere else, but it doesn’t feel foreign or strange. You’re being lead.”

“The Warmest Heart,” one of the album’s most acclaimed numbers, was built with a very specific scene in mind: a father and daughter stand on a sunny, picturesque beach, surrounded by water infested with mechanical fish.

Though they’re on a day trip together, she is ignored by her father while he works on his phone. She finds companionship in a mechanical skeleton, which she is intent on showing her father, but he refuses to pay her any mind. Soon, the skeleton begins coming to life, along with the robotic fish, and she becomes master of her imaginary mechanical domain.

Paired with resonating vocals and rolling soundscape of sinister bells and lightly twinkling background details, “The Warmest Heart” is one of many tracks that embodies all that Van Tassel has aimed for.

“I’m trying to make music that is completely respectful of an acoustic tradition, but at the same time recognizing that there are so many tools available to us with technology,” he said. “We can make sounds that we couldn’t really make before.”


Joshua Van Tassel plays Casa del Popolo on Wednesday, Apr. 3 at 8:30 p.m. 


Parenthetical Girls is all about the nitty gritty details

Press photo

As the frontman of the audacious, theatrical, and visually striking Parenthetical Girls, Zac Pennington was refreshingly humble and grounded. Rattling off answers about his band, in which he plays alongside Amber W. Smith and Paul Alcott, Pennington managed to stay mentally afloat while wandering his surroundings looking for a store – a fuse had just blown during sound check.

“It’s always weird having these conversations because obviously, right now, I’m distracted in every capacity,” he said lightheartedly. “We have these 10 minutes to talk about stuff, and it’s very difficult to get to a place where it’s like we’re having a conversation rather than you asking me questions and me really awkwardly trying to answer.”

If it sounds like Pennington is familiar with the ins and outs of the ever-unpredictable interview process, it’s because he has now been on both sides of the telephone line: coinciding with the dawn of Parenthetical Girls was his stint as a music reporter.

“I got into writing largely because I had a relationship with music to begin with,” he said. “It was an easy thing to do as an offshoot of being involved with putting on shows and working on music.”

Having viewed the music world through a variety of artistic lenses, Pennington and his bandmates have confidently taken their image into their own hands. Based in Portland, the trio’s music videos supply eye-popping colours, sharp patterns, rich textures and a dash of the surreal. The final package digs its claws into the roots of the mind.

“The idea is for a vision of grandeur that’s maybe a little bit out of our reach,” said Pennington. “The concepts that we have created are supposed to work on their own, rather than to just comment on the concept of the [accompanying] song. They were supposed to be statements in and of themselves.”

While the videos are intended to be viewed and experienced from an artistic point of view, the lyrics supply the personal touches. More often than not, Pennington takes care of the songwriting, drawing inspiration from personal events and personal points of view. The rest of the music, of course, is collaboratively conceived.

As a precursor to their latest record, Privilege, Parenthetical Girls released the album in its entirety during a 15-month span in the form of five limited edition – think 500 copies per release – EPs. It was a rolling process, with each microcosm hitting the shelves as it was completed.

“The idea of a release series was as much a pragmatic decision as it was a creative one,” said Pennington. Typically slow and meticulous when making music, the prospect of having a couple of years to work on an album appealed to the band. “We were more comfortable working on the sort of tangents we might not otherwise consider were we working on a full length—and many of these experiments turned out to be some of the most gratifying pieces of the series.”

Following suit with their attention to aesthetic detail, each EP donned tailor-made artwork by Swedish artist Jenny Mörtsell. Aside from that, a series of short “commercial” videos as precursors to the Privilege releases. Directly inspired by Calvin Klein’s ‘80s campaign featuring Brooke Shields, they spoke to Pennington’s fascination with “the weirdly fetishized way they’ve been preserved for posterity—from distant televisions, to VHS, to transcodes onto the internet.”

Having released four albums and endless EPs and singles in the past 10 years, Parenthetical Girls boasts some steady output that has made for a progressive musical experience.

“The total lack of consistency in the band over course of its history has made for a fairly constant re-evaluation of what actually even constitutes ‘Parenthetical Girls’—every record that we’ve recorded has more or less been an entirely new band.”


Nightlands uses midnight musings as musical fuel

Nightlands (Photo Catharine Maloney)

Every night for two years, Dave Hartley, who plays music as Nightlands, would periodically rise from his slumber and sing, muse, or hum into a tape recorder. Suffering from “crippling writer’s block,” it was the only way that the musician was able to properly articulate any ideas that he considered valuable. The only issue was that these strokes of genius almost always made appearances in the dead of night.

“I would often hear songs while I was falling asleep or in the middle of the night when I was dreaming,” said Hartley. Unsatisfied with the material he was producing in his waking hours, he turned to unconventional measures.

“It took a lot of practice and was hard to do, but I started waking myself up and singing into a tape recorder,” he said. “A lot of it is just hilarious gibberish, real tongue-twisters and weird stuff that doesn’t make any sense. But occasionally, there are these little melodies and lyrical stuff.”

While Hartley currently has everything under control, from his sleep patterns to his musical career, it was not always the case: the Nightlands project owes its existence to a job layoff. “There was a three-year period where I was basically unemployed, and recording with [my other band] The War on Drugs,” he said. “I had a lot of time to be creative and experiment a bit, which is a luxury that not many people have, so I was lucky. The project was born out of that.”

As someone whose musical beginnings are rooted in playing the trumpet in elementary school, the bass guitar in high school and as a member of multiple bands over the years, it comes as no surprise that Hartley evolved into a multi-instrumentalist.

“By virtue of being musical and being around it, you pick things up.” His true musical awakening, however, happened in sunny Philadelphia.

“I feel like I came of age in Philly,” he said. “When you’re living in the suburbs and at college, you think you know what it’s like to be musical, but really, you’re just trying to get laid by playing music onstage. Then you meet people who are really doing something profound and it crushes what you thought you knew. I met a ton of really creative people who were dedicated to trying to do something that was pure.”

Since then, Nightlands has taken off, producing Forget the Mantra, his debut record, and Oak Island, which was released in late January. For those curious about the contents of the dream tapes, some of the tracks on the first record have samples lifted straight from them: “Fly, Neanderthal” starts off with a direct pull from one of the twilight recordings.

Oak Island sees less of such transposition, as Hartley shifted his attention towards other details.

“It was more about the recording process and writing songs in a more conventional way,” he said. “Not super conventional – I don’t sit down and write them on a guitar or anything, I just record and build these sound structures. I didn’t use any of the dream stuff, although I think the music is dreamy in its own way.”

Indeed, the sound that Nightlands possesses dances a line of haunting and comforting, undeniably dream-like and celestial. To Hartley, however, this does not dictate the omission of elements of weight and groundedness.

“I use a lot of major seventh chords,” he said. “You can describe those chords as being comforting, but not completely comforting – it’s kind of twisted. I tend to gravitate towards those sounds, and I don’t exactly know how to get them, but I’ll just mess around until I do.”

Similar concepts can be found on some of Hartley’s favourite albums, such as The Beach Boys’ Friends.

“The kind of music I like is the kind of music that rewards extended attention,” he said. “I know that if I overdub less vocals and mixed a single vocal much more forward, [my music] would be easier to listen to, and you could listen to it without having to lean in as much.”

But that’s not the Nightlands way. “Maybe someday, I’ll want to make a record that smacks [listeners] right in the face, but for now I’m more interested in the geeks and the nerds like me.”


Nightlands plays Il Motore with Efterklang on Friday, Mar. 22 at 8 p.m.. Tickets are $15.






Weekly Mixtape: Kiss me, I’m wasted

It’s beer-soaked. It’s shamrocked. It’s the only day of the year when it’s socially acceptable to wear green on green on green. St. Patrick’s Day holds a very special place in the heart of the average university student — the one day of the year where it’s absolutely expected, no excuses, to drink yourself silly into fall-off-your-chair inebriation and act like an absolute animal. From the crucial moments of pre-gaming for the pub-goers, weighed down with Mardi-Gras-inspired plastic jewellery and Dollar Store bauble headbands, having a playlist of drinking anthems on repeat is part of a successful and complete St. Paddy’s Day experience. This mixtape offers – as a homage to losing your balance, hooking up with your childhood neighbour, having severely decreased depth perception, and being unable to enunciate – a slew of hard-hitting drinking songs.


SIDE A: The Pre-Drink

1. Kanye West – “Drunk and Hot Girls” – Graduation

2. Oasis – “Cigarettes and Alcohol” – Definitely Maybe

3. Franz Ferdinand – “Take Me Out” – Franz Ferdinand

4. AC/DC – “Have A Drink On Me” – Back in Black

5. Queen – “Don’t Stop Me Now” – Jazz

6. The Champs – “Tequila” – Train to Nowhere

7. Azealia Banks – “212” – Broke With Expensive Taste

8. Bon Jovi – “It’s My Life” – Crush

9. Beastie Boys – “Fight for your Right” – Licensed to Ill

10. J-Kwon – “Tipsy” – Single



SIDE B: On the Pub Speakers

1. The Gourds – “Gin and Juice” – Shinebox

2. Dead Kennedys – “Too Drunk to Fuck” – Single

3. Flogging Molly – “Irish Pub Song” – Drunken Lullabies

4. Dropkick Murphys – “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” – The Warrior’s Code

5. Kid Rock – “All Summer Long” – Rock n Roll Jesus

6. Chumbawumba – “Tubthumping” – Tubthumper

7. Journey – “Don’t Stop Believing” – Escape

8. The Pogues – “Streams of Whiskey” – Red Roses for Me

9. Gary Portnoy – “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” – Single

10. The Dubliners – “Whiskey in the Jar” – Single


Birds of a feather flock together with Thus:Owls

Thus:Owls plays the Phi Center for Montréal en Lumière on Friday, Feb. 22 at 8 p.m. (Photo Tim Georgeson)

Thus:Owls is romance and passion, from its humble sonic roots in the sublime west coast of Sweden to the love story that started it all.

“When we first met, it was because of music,” said musician Simon Angell, referring to his wife and bandmate Erika Angell. “We were touring together. My first instinct was that I wanted to play music with this person. The first time I saw her open her mouth, she was singing.”

After swapping iPods and discovering that their musical interests overlapped and coincided in many ways, the realization that the two “had the same idea of how [they] want to hear music and play it as well,” Simon made his way into the band.

Before the days of his involvement, Thus:Owls was an unnamed jam collective comprised of four Swedish friends, including Erika, that played low-key gigs around Stockholm. Approximately one year ago, the four swedes and Simon, who lived with them in Europe for a number of years, relocated to Montreal.

“It makes it tough especially as a new, upcoming band – we don’t have the funds to fly back and forth over the Atlantic all the time,” said Simon. “We put a collective of musicians together here, so we have a few guys from [Montreal] and a few people from Stockholm. It’s kind of a mixed bag.”

With such active blending of Canadian and Swedish culture, Thus:Owls is able to achieve a deeply ethereal and full-bodied sound that is characteristic of the Swedish way.

“That’s kind of the fun part,” said Simon. “You get to learn […] and get inspired by something you wouldn’t normally be exposed to. In Sweden, they take their time, there’s lots of space in their music – a lot more than we have here.” The Western half of the equation contributes a chaotic edge.

Aside from bands that they admire, a major factor that shapes Thus:Owls’ sound is Erika’s home turf, that being the Swedish west coast. A scape riddled with jagged rocks and raw, organic scenery, it is “beautiful and rough,” according to Simon. “The combination of the beauty and the harshness of it comes out a lot in what we do.”

As if the the band’s nordic birthplace wasn’t grandiose enough, their most recent album, Harbours, was recorded in a secluded Parisian manor-turned-studio.

“It feels very castle-y. It’s this old house, hundreds of years old,” said Simon. “It’s not set up like a slick, clean studio: there are patches in all the rooms. You can set up in the bathroom, in the living room – It’s like recording at home, with these giant high ceilings.”

Inevitably, the venue shaped the sound of the record in a major way. Instead of playing the same guitar on each track, Simon made use of the wide range of equipment provided by the studio, swapping out instruments as he went along. “The vibe of the place, along with the gear you have, along with the people you’re with, will help sculpt the sound of the record and what you’re doing,” he said.

Listeners can expect to hear some improv on the new record, ringing true to the musicians’ backgrounds, in their effort to take their sound further into “freer form music.” Now that Thus:Owls have released two records, they are very aware of what they want to produce. “Our last record was nine tunes that were more on their own,” said Simon. “We’re trying to think a little more homogeneously.”

As for the quirky band name: “There’s something about the mystique of an owl itself,” he said. “I think it reflects well on the music. The music we make is not sunny beach-time kind of music. It’s got a darkness to it, without being overly heavy. I find the owl reflects that mood – and there’s nothing boring than another ‘the’ band!”

Thus:Owls plays the Phi Center for Montréal en Lumière on Friday, Feb. 22 at 8 p.m.


Wake Island is as organic and raw as they come

Peeking out of the ocean, sitting almost directly at the mid-point between Asia and North America, is a spec on the map called Wake Island.

In a “moment of despair” while aimlessly traveling the globe via Google Maps in search of inspiration for a new band name, guitarist

Wake Island plays Casa Del Popolo on Feb. 16 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10. (Press)

Nadim Maghzal happened upon the tiny landmass, deeming it worthy of becoming the group’s namesake. Symbolically, it was too perfect to leave behind.

Wake Island’s roots are split between Lebanon, Canada, and the U.S., making for a cultural soup of epic proportions. With vocalist Philippe Menasseh and Maghzal hailing from the East, bassist Derek Koziol from America, and drummer Evan Tighe from Canada, finding musical common ground was an ongoing challenge at the start of Intensive Care – the project that preceded Wake Island, with Jonathan Parsons on drums at the time.

“When we started writing music, it was all over the place, and that’s natural,” said Maghzal. “Everyone was trying to put in their own idea of what was cool and what was not. Being from such different cultural points, obviously, the result was a mess.”

Having spent the first 18 years of their lives in Lebanon, Maghzal and Menasseh were exposed almost exclusively to Britpop and European rock and roll, given the prevalence of MTV Europe as opposed to its Western counterpart. When those foreign influences paired with the other members’ backgrounds from the North American music scene, the result was friction and vexation.

“Those were the hard years,” said Maghzal, giving a nod to the days of Intensive Care. “Everything was difficult, from booking a show to writing a song. There was always head-butting. Everyone was so sensitive. Everything we said had to be calculated not to offend anyone.”

With the progression of time came closeness between the bandmates, newfound understandings, a new drummer, and the identity shift from Intensive Care to Wake Island. In the wake of Tighe’s induction, the band spent five months in the studio on hiatus from recording. Instead, they were jamming, finding their footing and establishing a cohesive sound.

“The word is compromise. That’s how you get closer to people,” explained Maghzal. “I love being wrong. It means that I’ve learned something.”

Thanks to its motley origins, Wake Island is naturally able to transcend and breathe new life into the often hackneyed sound of indie rock.

“We always have an outsider’s perspective,” he said. “We see [music] with fresh eyes – we’ve acquired this culture [by moving to Montreal], but we never make an effort to fit any mold. Everything we make, including the music, we’ve never made compromises to make the music sound like what it ‘should’ sound like.”

Regardless of the group’s detached perspective, their willingness to stay true to the ideologies behind the genre remains intact.

“Typical indie rock is this whole idea of doing everything yourself,” said Maghzal.

Currently putting out a record – It Takes Time to be Uncomfortable is being released on Feb. 16 – the band is taking care of all preparations, from hand-making the tickets, stickers and T-shirt designs to booking shows and manning the website. The organic, hands-on mentality that Wake Island has gladly adopted is not unique to indie rock, Maghzal noted, but a characteristic of rock music that has been prevalent since its inception.

“This genre has constantly kept defying its own classification,” he said. “There have been generations of musicians – if you listen to rock in the ’00s, its different than the ’90s, and the ’80s. It’s all rock: it’s the idea of, ‘We’re fucking unhappy with this, that’s shit, we’re going to do this instead’. I think all good rock bands are driven by this attitude: the do-what-you want, do-it-yourself attitude.”

It Takes Time to be Uncomfortable aims to reflect the volatile period that Wake Island worked through in its initial stages.

“If you don’t put yourself in an uncomfortable situation where there’s tension, you never learn,” said Maghzal. “There’s never any sense of reward. You never progress, you just stay where you are.”

Immersed in conversation touching on familiar ideas of discomfort while on tour in Koziol’s native Boston, the bandmates came across an old photo of him as a child while visiting his house.

“When we saw the picture, we were like, ‘This is the album cover, this makes total sense’,” said Maghzal. “You have a kid who’s clearly a kid from the ’80s or ’90s, where he had this promise that he was going to live in a serene world where everything was going to be nice and perfect.”

Enter the concept of discomfort. Nowadays, he explained, people are overwhelmed and confused, much unlike the idealistic vision of the future that people had at the time when the photo was taken. “That picture represented this illusion that people in [that era] had that the future was a place that would be better. We ask ourselves, is it really better, and how can life be improved? How can we fix things?”

Reflecting upon the trials and tribulations that riddled Wake Island’s past and drinking in present-day homegrown success, Maghzal is able to sum up his feelings in one simple phrase: “Wow. We made it.”

Wake Island plays Casa Del Popolo on Feb. 16 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10.


Buke & Gase are rock, noise and everything in between

There’s only one band on the planet that knows how to work instruments such as the toe-bourine, the buke—which is a six-string ukelele—and the gase, a guitar/bass hybrid. This band is Buke & Gase, brainchild of Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez, both of whom are Brooklyn natives. Their expertise is rooted in the fact that they came up with each of these instruments themselves, having turned once-commonplace music-makers into colossal innovations.

“[Sanchez] has a kick drum which is slightly enhanced,” explained Dyer. “It’s got a snare sound, a tambourine sound and a shaker sound so that when you hit the kick drum, it has more range.”

Buke & Gase has managed to remain a fairly percussion-centric duo without ever having to lay hands on a drum set. Instead of using the traditional setup, the band breaks the mold by using bells, the modified kick drum, their toe-bourine and an assortment of other instruments that have been modified to suit their desired sound. Even the band’s string instruments are “very percussive and we play rhythmic parts that add percussive drive to the music.”

Buke & Gase’s expertise is rooted in the fact that they came up with each of these instruments themselves, having turned once-commonplace music-makers into colossal innovations. (Press)

“We grew up in Brooklyn around bands like Lightning Bolt and all kinds of do-it-yourself small two-person bands,” said Sanchez. “I think that’s influenced the manner in which we make music, right up to creating instruments that allow us to be a two-person band that sounds huge, allowing us to be sonically powerful.”

Having met in 2000, the two wasted no time getting their musical careers up and running. Before they pioneered Buke & Gase six years ago, Dyer and Sanchez dabbled in electronic music together for some time, then played in a four-piece band called Hominid. For the entirety of their musical career, now more than ever, the duo has prided themselves on drawing inspiration from all over.

“We were influenced quite heavily when we were in Brooklyn by the other bands that were our peers,” said Dyer. “But the music that we like is not necessarily Brooklyn-based. Stylistically, we are very influenced by nigerian highlife. We like world music, classical, classic american rock, hip hop … anything, pretty much.”

For that reason, any given review of a Buke & Gase album or show will offer up an entirely unique and eclectic mash-up of terms in an attempt to file them under some form of quasi-genre. Cataloguing their style, however, is an unwelcome act in Dyer’s books.

“We like to not really describe it,” she said. “It’s good to get your own opinion. If you think about the instrumentation, it gives it a certain style; we play a string of instruments that could be classified as rock instruments.” They do come equipped with a kick drum, a guitar and bass sounds, but given that they have all been tweaked and modified, the resulting sound is equally abnormal.

“Usually when somebody asks me [to describe our sound], I tend to say, ‘I don’t know, listen to it and see what you think of it first before we discuss what it sounds like,’ so that they can get their own opinion.”

In 2009, the band appeared as a guest on Radiolab, a radio program also available as a podcast produced by a company based out of New York. According to Sanchez, their appearance on the show gave Buke & Gase a ton of invaluable exposure and since then, the band has never looked back.

Are they able to pinpoint one outstanding career-defining experience? “All of it,” said Sanchez.

Dyer laughed in agreement, adding, “We’ve been invited by several of our heroes to perform with them and each time it’s amazing […] we play with such a variety of other musicians and we’ve been featured in a variety of different types of shows from classical to rock. It’s never the same thing twice, that’s for sure.”


The Strain know best: family and friends come first

If you look up directions from Montreal to Wakefield, Google Maps will point you two and a half hours westward — three hours and

The Strain plays Petit Campus on Monday, Jan. 28 at 8 p.m. Press photo

three minutes in current traffic. Nestled in the boonies of our frigid province and glued to the Gatineau River, this cozy, friendly, quintessentially-Canadian small town is where The Strain hangs its hat.

Adhering to their modest beginnings, the band’s roots are equally quaint. Today, the self-proclaimed “electro/alt-pop-rock” group is comprised of siblings David and Rylee Taggart, their cousin Alex Serre, and longtime childhood friend Nick Johnston. When The Strain started out, however, it was merely half its current size.

“[Serre] and I have been in bands forever, since I was 12 or 13 and he was 10,” said David. “We were just a duo, in cover bands doing Green Day, Nirvana, and The Beatles.” At 15, they were opening for screamo bands at the Black Sheep Inn, a venue that has helped put Wakefield on the map.

“Our voices were so high, it was pretty funny,” said David. “But it introduced us to the gig scene early. We learned at a young age what it’s all about.”

With no other bandmates, the duo headed home to recruit David’s volleyball-playing sister Rylee, who “had a piano kicking around” and “used to watch YouTube videos so she had rhythm.”

Family friend Nick, who had his own solo guitar act, was also taken on, and The Strain was born. Since that fateful fusion, progressing as a unit has been smooth and natural.

“Being in a band with your relatives is a lot easier because you don’t have to beat around the bush,” David said. The singer/guitarist admits to having the occasional sibling argument with his sister, but smooth sailing is the norm.

Big Money Shot, a competition open to bands around the Ottawa region, was an essential stepping stone towards success. Out of 60 participating bands, The Strain took home the $25,000 grand prize. The winnings went towards funding their tour, buying some gear, and hiring a public relations company. And of course, their humble roots backed them up every step of the way.

“Our town was so supportive,” said David. “They were the most rowdy, they made the most noise. Our whole town, young to old, we packed a school bus and they came to the grand finale.”

The band’s small-town upbringing also played an indispensable role in the production of their music. “A lot of our songs were influenced by the characters that were in our small town and the stuff they do,” said David. On Three Sheets in the Wind, the track “Earl” pays homage to Wakefield’s very own town drunk —  a character indeed.

“I remember this one time when he left our house on New Years Eve and he shouldn’t have been driving,” recalled David. “He barely got out of my driveway and went into a ditch. He got upset and said, ‘If you guys can get it out, you can have it!’ So [Serre], my sister and I, and a friend spent the whole day pulling it out with ropes attached to our van. Then we had a joyride around town.”

Representing a younger demographic (David is 21, while the rest of the band members are 19) has taught The Strain how to garner respect in a whole new way. “Some people saw that we were young and pretty much judged a book by its cover, but when we started playing, it changed their minds.”

From the days of diaper bags —  David cites one particular video from Alex’s first birthday in which Nick can be seen getting “run over by his mammoth dog” —  to their current tour across the Canadian East, The Strain has been and will always be a family affair.


The Strain plays Petit Campus on Monday, Jan. 28 at 8 p.m.


Mixtape: The Oscars Through the Ages

With the 2013 Oscar nominations having just been announced, tabloids, movie enthusiasts, and all-of-a-sudden film lovers everywhere are making bets on who will take home the most prestigious golden statue of a little man this planet has to offer. While the legitimacy of the fairness and objectiveness of the proceedings is disputed each and every year, one thing holds true despite all the flak: the Academy Awards acknowledge some really, really, really incredible movies. And what is bound to accompany said noteworthy films? Some equally noteworthy music, of course. Whether it’s our beloved Pinocchio’s “When You Wish Upon a Star” or the more recent “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” a classic is born each year with the crowning of “Best Song.”

SIDE A: Oldies but goodies: pre-2000

1. “Over the Rainbow” – The Wizard of Oz – 1939

2. “When You Wish Upon A Star” – Pinocchio – 1940

3. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” – Song of the South – 1947

4. “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – 1969

6. “Fame” – Fame – 1980

7. “Flashdance … What A Feeling” – Flashdance – 1983

8. “(I’ve Had) The Time of my Life” – Dirty Dancing – 1987

9. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” – The Lion King – 1994

10. “My Heart Will Go On” – Titanic – 1997


SIDE B: The millennials

11. “If I Didn’t Have You” – Monsters, Inc. – 2001

12. “Lose Yourself” – 8 Mile – 2002

13. “Into the West” – Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – 2003

14. “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” – Hustle & Flow – 2005

15. “I Need to Wake Up” – An Inconvenient Truth – 2006

16. “Falling Slowly” – Once – 2007

17. “Jai Ho” – Slumdog Millionaire – 2008

18. “The Weary Kind” – Crazy Heart – 2009

19. “We Belong Together” – Toy Story 3 – 2010

20. “Man or Muppet” – The Muppets – 2011


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